Merle Cockers
American Spaniel Club:

Board Minutes


Here are excerpts from the ASC Board Minutes and the Club Bulletin regarding the merle cocker spaniel issue.
This has been going on for a few years now, and from even recent postings, and all the merle education that is out there now,
they are still showing unbelievable ignorance towards the merle pattern.

2008 April Board Minutes:
From ASC Zone V :
Members wanted to know about the status of the Merle colors…I did have copies of the AKC director’s letter that went to the Chihuahua Club (opens in PDF)
asking that they not vote to disqualify Merle color, as color has no bearing on health…….etc 

July-August-September 2005 ASC Bulletin:
-Merle cockers: After discussion, the board decided to delay acting on the standard committee's recommendation to allow these dogs to be registered as merles by including this color pattern on the registration form. A dominant color cannot simply appear in a breed. Unlike a recessive, it can't remain hidden for generations. As guardians of the breed, we
would be negligent if we accepted these animals simply because they are here.
A subcommittee has been appointed to research the pedigrees and hopefully determine exactly where and when the pattern began. Even the merle websites say they don't know this. If it can be proven that the pattern could not have arisen from the mating indicated by pedigrees, the registration status of all merles would be in question. Then we would look to AKC on what the next step would be. Perhaps a "Z" registry like DPCA has for white dobermans.

Board Meeting Standards Committee ASC-7-2005
Standards Committee – Mrs. Speich, Chair.
Report attached. The report was rejected by Board members.
IT WAS MOVED by Ms. Patterson and seconded by Ms. Darke that the Public Education/PR Coordinator prepare an educational piece, through the website, that Merles are not Cocker Spaniels, are not an allowed color. Suggested approaches were: Buyer Beware! Fraudulent pedigrees, etc. 
Pictures of correct colors are to be included on the website. Further, the Public Education Coordinator should develop a website page to educate the public that the Merle is not a purebred Cocker Spaniel, and does not have proper colors. Motion approved. The Standard Committee should try to research the merle color in pedigrees to determine if there is evidence that these are or are not purebred Cockers.

Jan 2006 ASC Board meeting
Merle Hearing
Attendees: Bob Smith, Bill Gorodner, Sharon Reed, Joan Stallard, Harriet Kamps, Linda Donaldson, Barbara Shaw, Cara Burgess, Jeff Wright, Bonnie Pike, Debbie Knight, Julie Virosteck, Gale Golden, Bob Rubic, Anna Lee McKennon.
Jeff Wright presented his committee report on the merle gene. It was a USDA kennel which produced the merle cockers. Rusty Butch (whelped 1979) was bred two bitches within same week and puppies from those breedings, born in 1988, expressed the merle color/pattern
In order to investigate further, there needs to be a written request from ASC on ASC letterhead asking for complete stud record of Rusty Butch with colors he produced and similar complete record of the two bitches. The letter should be sent to David Roberts. Maybe can get registration revoked on these two original puppies and from everything on down. Jeff urged the Board to follow through.
Pedigrees may well be falsified – so AKC might revoke.
Summary of Mr. Wright’s committee report:
1. color alone is evidence these animals are not purebred
2. our breed already has many health issues – this gene is going to add even more health issues, including the possibility of lethal genes, lack of eyes, deafness, etc.
3. without regard for health, this color is being encouraged by breeding for this in various puppy mills.
Doing nothing is not the answer. The ASC needs to pursue this issue and do something to try to protect the breed. AKC has allowed our Stud Book to be compromised by their acceptance of fraudulent litter registrations as well as by taking it upon themselves to change color descriptions to permit registration of colors the American Spaniel Club does not recognize. The committee also believes ASC needs to take a stronger stand on merle because of the health issue associated with the breed.
Cara Burgess:. AKC won’t pull registration. Abhor color but think we should allow them to register the color AKC number and educate breeders and public.
Sharon Reed: Inspected kennels for AKC. Found B/T Labrador in kennel where Labs and Dobes were bred and was told by AKC to drop the issue. AKC will take money. If parents are registered, AKC will register offspring.
Bill Gorodner discussed the problem of identifying the color by appearance alone and gave the example that sable merle collie can look like a regular sable collie.
Anna Lee McKennon was interested in identifying the merle gene marker utilizing Dr. Murphy’s test.
Then having a knowledgeable vet to analyze report to present to AKC.
Bob Smith suggested starting with ASC members who are merle breeders in violation of the code of ethics. He suggested that the onus was on members to prove merles have no genetic markers from other breeds which are legitimately merle.
Barbara Shaw suggested approaching ASC members asking them to participate in a study of the merle gene. Bill Gorodner suggested that there are enough roan cockers to show difference in gene between merle and roan.
At the close of the hearing, Ms. Torgerson moved that Board follow Mr. Wright’s recommendation and request information from AKC on the stud records of Rusty Butch, Timberline’s Betty and Penny Locks; Ms. Darke 2nd. Unanimously approved.

April 2006 ASC Board Minutes
The merle issue still looms. For some reason, color discussions seem to stimulate an inordinate amount of emotions in our organization. Perhaps this is in part because all but one of our disqualifications pertains to color. At any rate, AKC has made their stance quite clear: They will register merles however they can and “will not refuse to register a cocker based on color alone.” Nor will they revoke any registrations unless we can show color pedigree proof that they are not purebred. They, of course know that this is impossible. They want us to cure their headache by allowing the merle pattern on registration forms. Unfortunately, I see no viable alternative…but I am open to suggestions.

August 2006 ASC Bulletin
Submitted by Jeff Wright
I have a list of 92 known merle cockers. To produce a merle cocker, one parent MUST be a merle. One merle parent bred to a regular color results in 50% merle, 50% nonmerle. Merle to merle bred together will produce 25% nonmerle, 50% merle, and 25% double dilutes, or “whites.” In cockers for example a MM dog, if a parti, it could be white, or faint gray if it was to be a black & white, or faint brown if it is to be a brown parti. In blacks, buffs and sables the gene can hide. But if these colors were the product of a merle to merle breeding, they would look peculiar, faint of color, and the eyes would look different or weird.
There is a dog that is a double merle and lived to sire whole litters of merle offspring. His name is Prince Alex of Iron Lake. His pedigree is the result of combining Rusty Butch with Timberline’s Betty and Penny Locks. All known merle cockers come from the mating results of Rusty Butch to these two bitches. Prince Alex is proof that a double merle cocker can live and can, unfortunately, produce. Not all affected merle dogs die as pups or suddenly.
Everyone agrees that merle cockers are a result of an accidental breeding. All merle cockers are a result of the matings of Penny Locks and Timberline’s Betty. Every known merle cocker’s pedigree can be traced back to them.
Pat Crew has access to a dog sired by Prince Alex Of Iron Lake, and the party that owns this dog is willing to do the DNA test for our research. I feel that we need to retrieve a blood sample of the dog mentioned with Pat’s help and get the results from this animal which will add to the continued research of how the merle gene was introduced to our purebred cocker spaniel.
The health issues associated with the merle gene are sensory,neurological and immune-system defects. Distortion of the eye’s appearance due to a lack of the reflective substance (tapetum lucidum) that lines the back of the dog’s eye. Dogs that lack this substance have night blindness and other visual problems. Other eye problems include small eyeballs,
with prominent third eyelids, as well as a physical cleft in the iris of the eye. Abnormalities of the eyes are a key indication of other neurological defects. Deafness or a reduction of hearing is also a health problem. Excessive white in a dog of any color can be a warning sign of hearing problems.
My findings are a result of many people’s help sharing first hand knowledge of merle cockers. I will continue to collect any new information and update my findings on the merle gene and its known affects on our breed.

Where are we now with Merle Testing?
Submitted by Bettie Campbell
As the ASC Board became more aware of the potential health risks that result from merle-to-merle breeding, the dominance of the merle gene, and errors in AKC registrations it appointed a committee, headed by Jeff Wright to investigate and make recommendations to the Board. At thesame time the Board became aware of research which was
developing a simple buccal swab test to DNA for the merle gene. (see CHF article in this Bulletin)
In Jeff’s July report to the Board (see summary in this Bulletin), he requested that we have a sampling of Cockers tested for the merle gene and very astutely suggested that all dogs tested be micro-chipped so that a permanent ID will be guaranteed.
It was not difficult to find owners willing to have the DNA testing done and the ASC Foundation agreed to cover expenses for the microchip, the DNA test, vet costs and shipping up to a total of $600. When it became apparent that several additional dogs were available and were being offered for testing by Rescue homes and ASC members, the
ASC Board allocated funds to cover costs over the ASCF allocation, up to an additional $600.
The rights to the test, developed at Texas A & M University, were sold to a commercial lab and we are now working with them on collection and testing. At this collection stage we have also added a blood draw to be banked at University of Missouri, Banking On Our Future, blood bank.
Working with Jeff and the owners, I am coordinating the collection and testing. Sometimes progress comes in small steps. This program to attempt to insure the purity and health of our Cockers could not be done without the help and support of people willing to step up and say, “no matter what, I will help”!
Thank you from all of us.

Zone II
Merle Issue: Members were unanimous that they do not want the color recognized. Health considerations and suspicious origins of merle cockers were all mentioned as problems.
A suggestion was made to further define a roan, so that merles could not be registered as roans

January 2007 ASC Board Meeting
Unfinished Business
Merle Committee Progress Report – Mrs. Campbell provided an update re testing. Drew blood and obtained DNA swabs. Mrs. Campbell banked the blood and has the
swabs. One dog has not been taken for testing and Mrs. Campbell said she will get additional dog tested by herself. Various suggestions were discussed about how to handle the merle color on the registration certificate. The ideal goal is to eradicate merle gene from the cocker spaniel gene pool. Alternatively, work with AKC to manage so health issues associated with the merle gene don’t proliferate. Need to sit down with empirical evidence that registry process has errors is incumbent on them to resolve problem. Need to know what can do with AKC. Like to see sit down with AKC sooner rather than later. Engage AKC in the process
Ms. Darke moved Jane Williams chair the merle committee, comprised of Bettie Campbell, Bruce Van Deman and Jeff Wright to meet with AKC and report back to the Board by July with a progress report at spring Board Mtg. Second by Ms.Torgerson. Unanimously approved.

March 2007 ASC Bulletin
...The Board also set deadlines for the ad hoc Merle committee work..